Mentoring Offers a Boost, Study Says, but Few Take Advantage

From Associations Now, a publication of the American Society for Association Executives. Written by Mark Athitakis, Associatons Now contributing editor.

Research from the Association for Talent Development says that organizations with formal mentoring programs claim stronger employee engagement and retention.

Organizations can reap plenty of benefits from formal mentoring programs, according to a new study, but fewer than a third of them have such programs in place.

Those are the findings of a new study from the Association for Talent Development, which surveyed 969 participants, primarily from companies based in North America, about their mentoring programs. According to ATD’s report, titled “Mentoring Matters,” only 29 percent of respondents said that their organization has a formal mentoring program—that is, one with “a defined structure and clear guidelines and objectives,” though 37 percent say they have an informal one.

According to ATD Research Analyst Megan Cole, organizations that haven’t developed formal programs and have no plans to start one in the next five years cite lack of resources, organizational culture, and a lack of interest or availability from potential mentors.

Organizations with formal programs claim plenty of benefits for the mentors, mentees, and the organization as a whole. The mentee benefits most often cited in the study are professional development (36 percent) and a better understanding of organizational culture (30 percent). Top benefits for mentors are “developing new perspectives” (59 percent) and developing leadership skills (49 percent). And organizationally, respondents said the top benefits were higher employee engagement and retention (50 percent) and supporting the growth of high-potential employees (46 percent).

“As you climb the ladder, you’re less likely to be a mentee.”

Mentoring programs come in many varieties, with in-person, one-on-one mentoring cited as the most common (78 percent). However, the largest proportion of respondents (47 percent) said that the most effective method was a hybrid approach that included multiple methods such as virtual meetings, peer mentoring, and group mentoring alongside in-person conversations.

Mentoring programs tend to target newer hires in entry-level roles rather than middle managers, according to the study. “As you climb the ladder, you’re less likely to be a mentee,” Cole said. It’s most common for mentees to enter a formal program by applying and then being accepted (44 percent), though 34 percent of respondents said that mentees are formally nominated by administrators.

Just as important as the format for mentoring, Cole said, is the training behind it. “We also looked at practices associated with effectiveness and found that organizations that train mentors before or during the program were significantly more likely to report that their mentoring programs were highly effective at meeting learning goals,” she said. “The same was also true for those that train mentees.”

The report includes a number of recommendations for a successful mentoring program, such as starting with a small pilot program before a larger rollout; connecting mentors with new hires; defining methods for evaluating the program’s performance; establishing guidelines and training for all participants; and getting buy-in from senior leadership.

To that last point, the study cites Anna Marie Crowley, vice president of global talent management and organizational effectiveness at Wyndham Destination Network, who suggests “asking senior leaders a simple question to win them over: Who in your career has given you the best advice or guidance? Most senior leaders have had some type of mentor—formal or informal—during the course of their career, so reminding them of that is likely to persuade them to support the program, and perhaps even convince them to act as a mentor.”

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